Exercise and movement – a loving relationship with our bodies, or social compliance?

Exercise and movement – a loving relationship with our bodies, or social compliance?

Exercise and movement – a loving relationship with our bodies, or social compliance?

As young children we move freely. . . unencumbered, unashamed, joyful and exquisitely curious. We learn to walk with such natural acceptance and grace. Give it a go, oops, up again for another attempt and then rest when the body needs to. We feel, see, move and touch things with innocence, purity and simplicity.

Then as life happens and we grow, things change. For whatever reason the world as it currently is does not welcome the movements of a child in an adult, apparently averse to the light and joy. Weird I know and discussing this would be a book in itself. But for now this is the way it is, and so we come to look at what happens to these pure movements and the graduation from infant to child to teenager to adult.

As children we watch those around us and get to see that their movements do not match how we feel. So from early on we realise there is a disparity between the magic and glory we feel inside and the outside world. And as we realise that the world does not accept and enjoy what we feel inside, and this can be overtly or covertly experienced, we start to modify our ways; keep the inside to ourselves and learn to move in accordance with what we see around us.

And then school happens. Already inculcated into the expected way of life, school comes along and confirms the need for compliance. You sit, stand, run, walk when you are told to. And you do things in an instructed way. Eyes front, shutting down further the relationship with everything that is going on around us, the classroom confirms that what we feel inside does not match what the world wants.

Amazing huh? – that all of us go through this. Compressed into becoming part of a system that has no space or grace for who we truly are. Why would we do this? It makes no sense and turns the perfection of life and all the learning on offer into a tight, dark, complicated struggle.

Sport is a huge part of this dysfunctional setup that is life as it is commonly experienced today. From very young we are encouraged to play, watch and applaud sport and led to believe that sport is the way to stay fit and have a healthy relationship with our body; it is through sport that we can get recognition, accolades and prizes for achievements and so sets deeper in motion this notion that we have to look outside ourselves for a sense of our worth, constantly pushing for betterment.

If we just took basic physiology and rudimentary development of the body, we would realise the non-sensical-ness of young bodies with rapidly growing long bones and lax joints coping with these changes, playing impact, contact and joint stress sport.

I have witnessed life changing injuries on school sports field, vomiting on cross country runs and much verbal cruelty as the models of competition, comparison and jealousy played out.

It could be said, and this was my experience, that when you leave school this pressure lifts somewhat; some continue to advance their sporting skills after school and some don’t. What I observed was that whilst there was some relief about the absence of compulsory sport post school, another monster lurked…

The projection of body beautiful now picks up the baton and continues to pollute our relationship with our bodies, our decision-making around exercise, food and lifestyle choices; doing things not based on what would truly support the body but what would make us look good, fit in and be accepted in society.

A setup that has us constantly unsettled in ourselves, under the cosh of external demands that convince us that we are lacking. The added cruelty of this setup is that the goal posts are constantly changing. This year you need to be tall, slim and androgenous, next year curvy and voluptuous. This month brunettes are favoured, then red heads… but now it is blonds. It is literally chaos out there and no wonder therefore that we have so much body dysmorphia, lack of self-worth and self-harm in its many guises.

Adrift from the truth of moving and exercising our bodies in line with what they truly call for, we accept, endorse and act out levels of abuse to our bodies that under a loving truth spotlight would be seen to be as abhorrent as they are… running until you vomit, the no pain no gain model that has us pushing through clear signalling from the body that we are doing harm and – something that is relatively new in the world – the massive drug taking to develop performance, modify body shape and grow muscle.

And we are educated into this way of being with our bodies from young, through our school sports years and into adulthood; learnt behaviours that harden the body, build a fitness to compete but in no way support us in our fitness for life.

And in the crisis of lack of self-worth, constant striving for some illusionary and labile perfection, we see the devastation in relationships, families, communities and humanity that has become our statistical normal.

So, how can we get out of this social compliance and the pictures we have about being fit, when this leads to our overall life fitness being undermined?

How can we go back to a loving relationship with our bodies and teach children from young to listen to their bodies and build true fitness that supports a movement through life with rich wellbeing, and not with exercised debilitating function?

What if our movements give us access to a way of life beyond function, offering a state of wellbeing that is not defined by the absence of illness and disease, injuries or overall physical and mental health issues?

It would be great to consider these questions and realise the exquisite simplicity of connecting to our bodies and developing a respectful listen and respond relationship with them. From here we are wise beyond words and fit for everything life offers us.

Filed under

Body imageFitnessSelf-worth

  • By Matilda Bathurst, BSc Hons, RGN, RM, PGCE (Primary)

    A life enthusiast, nurturer and willing learner; mother, teacher, walker extraordinaire, registered midwife & nurse. Thriving into my elder years.

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd